Classics in the History of Psychology
Special Collections

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3713

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Institutions of Early Experimental Psychology:
Laboratories, Courses, Journals, and Associations

Edited by Christopher D. Green,
York University

© 2000 Christopher D. Green

Posted August 2000

General Introduction

1. In recent years, many historians of science have shifted their focus away from what are sometimes called scientists' cognitive resources (e.g., theories, hypotheses, concepts) toward their material and social resources. These latter resources include the instruments they use in their research, the laboratories and university departments in which they work, the professional associations to which they belong, and the types of publications through which they communicate their findings. It is this sort of "disciplinary apparatus," just as much as their scientific results, that enables individuals with related research interests to establish, maintain, and cultivate the kind of scientific institution that will sustain and support both them and their work.

2. Psychology emerged as an independent scientific discipline during the closing decades of the 19th century. This episode is all too often reduced simply to the "highlights" of Wundt publishing his textbook Physiologische Psychologie (Physiological Psychology) in 1874, establishing his courses and laboratory in Leipzig in 1879, and publishing the first volume of his journal Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies) in 1883. These events, however, important as they were, were only one episode in an extended and complicated process. There was no guarantee that Wundt's text, courses, lab, and journal would succeed in establishing a new scientific discipline. Only if students studied his text, came to conduct research in his lab, published their results in his journal, and then, most importantly, went out to create new texts, courses, labs and journals, attracting new students of their own, would there come into existence the "critical mass" of people necessary for the new endeavor to become a self-sustaining discipline in its own right. Of course, all these things ultimately came to pass (or the discipline of psychology, if it existed at all, would be a very different one today), and it is interesting to study in more detail how the process unfolded.

3. The main aim of this Classics in the History of Psychology Special Collection is to bring together a number of the most important documents in the founding of the discipline of psychology, and to provide some explanatory, contextualizing commentary on them. The emphasis is not, however, on the theories and discoveries of early psychologists, as it typically is in history of psychology textbooks, but rather on the establishment of disciplinary institutions: the laboratories, journals, and professional associations. The focus is confined, for the most part, to North America and to the last two decades of the 19th century.

4. The collection is divided up into three major sections. Each section is comprised of an introductory essay and a number of relevant primary source documents. The first section covers the founding of the first experimental psychology laboratories and associated experimental psychology courses. It includes announcements of the founding of psychology laboratories and courses, as well as articles reviewing the general state of experimental psychology at various points in time. The second section focuses on the presence of psychology in philosophy journals of the late 19th century, and on the establishment of journals exclusively devoted to experimental psychology. It contains inaugural editorials, where available, and tables of contents of the early volumes of these journals. These give one a good idea of what goals were thought to be advanced by having a journal of one's own, and of what topics were considered to be important in experimental psychology's formative years. The third section is centered on the formation of the American Psychological Association (AYA) and the American Philosophical Association (AFA). From the very beginning experimental psychology's existence, the nature of its relationship to philosophy -- which had been regarded as psychology's "home" until that time -- was a matter of some debate. When the AYA was formed in 1893, philosophers constituted a significant portion of its membership. Increasing tension between the two "sides" of the organization, however, led to the formation of the AFA less than a decade later. Therefore, this section of the Collection includes the founding documents of both organizations, as well as a number articles and editorials of the day calling for various changes in the structure of the AYA, and on the "proper" relationship between psychology and philosophy more generally. Also included are the retrospective reviews by some of the key participants.

--Christopher D. Green

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